tv [untitled] CSPAN April 6, 2010 8:30pm-9:00pm EDT
trying to be honest. but we have never seen a case where we can definitively prove, based on the event data recorder or something else, that this is electronics. that is something the experts are going to look at and try to find out one way or the other. the transportation department is asking nasa and the national academy of sciences to come on board. are they admitting they do not have the resources to look into today's modern cars? >> you are right. they are. they have a few people with experience but they do not have the amount of -- the things you look at, mechanical problems in cars -- the agency has generally shied away from doing a lot of electronics. the look at this issue in 1986. in 1989 the wrote a long report and thought they put it to bed. for decades, these issues have popped up. in the late nineties there were
issues about jeeps in car washes and whether there were electronic searches. i think the agency has not necessarily put a lot of stock in electronics issues. now they say they are going to bring topflight experts in -- nasa to look at electromagnetic radiation or outside forces. they are not electronics experts at nhtsa. there is so much concern in congress and elsewhere they're going to the world's best for an answer. we're not going to get the definitive answer for probably a year or more. in that video we showed you, we heard from rep bart stupak, a democrat from michigan. what is congress going to do? what does congressman stupack want to do when it comes to reforming safety laws going forward? >> members of the energy and
congress -- energy and commerce committee are working on legislation now. i think you will see an increase in the budget of nhtsa. in 1980, they had 119 investigators. they have about half of that today. i think you're going to see, potentially, a requirement that foreign automakers designate a person in the united states with the legal ability to recall vehicles. the big issue is that the authority to recall vehicles at toyota rests with people in japan. there is concern within congress that someone in the united states should have an authority. that is something i think foreign companies will potentially object to. i think there will be more requirements on safety devices like break shift override and event data recorders and hiking fines, potentially making the penalties topper -- even criminal penalties for an
executive that knowingly failed to recall a vehicle. they did not go that far in 2000. but there is so much outrage in congress. i think there is going to be some action. it is a question of how long that takes. in 2000, the tragic act -- v tead acthe tread act passed in a matter of weeks. >> coming up next, your phone calls, your twitter messages, and we will talk to former nhtsa administrator is -- dr. jeffrey runge and dr. ricardo martinez. first, we want to show more testimony from the current administrator at a house oversight subcommittee last month, where he was questioned by two congressmen about nhtsa oversight and current subpoena power. >> there have been a lot of articles written -- a lot of
testimony recently that nhtsa has not fulfilled its responsibility, that nhtsa is the lap dog for the industry not a watchdog. there has been a lot of criticism out there about the agency. as the administrator, how would you respond to that in a general way? do you think that criticism is valid? >> it is not valid at all. we have been a very active agency since i have taken office. it has been very active since secretary lahood has taken office. this agency opened eight separate investigations over the time. when there were complaints about sudden acceleration. a lap dog does not open eight investigations. the goal is for us and our statutory order is to find any vehicle safety defect that
presents an unreasonable risk. anytime a complaint or any data or anomaly in the number of complaints or what we see from the early warning system -- our folks take a look at it. they investigate. if we cannot find the defect, which cannot enforce a mandatory recall. that does not mean we think that vehicle is safe, but at that point we cannot meet the statutory case. we will keep looking. as we have, when we find a defect, such as the floor mat entrapment or the sticky peddla, we act and react quickly. i do not think the history of our action in this area before i took office or the tenure. a lot of people are looking at -- i think this agency has been active. >> if you find a defect, you can require a mandatory recall. is that correct?
>> yes, sir. about subpoena power -- it is my understanding that you can issue information requests. >> yes, sir. >> do the manufacturers have to respond to that request? >> there is a difference between a subpoena and an information request. i know a lot of people talk about we have subpoena power. we can compel a subpoena for documents. we can get every document and they have to give that to us. information requests, they also have to respond, but it has a better purpose. we not only get documents. we asked direct questions to give us answers to. it is a sharper tool. the agency uses that frequently. we sent three large queries to toyota regarding the timeliness of their submission of information to us regarding the floor mats and the sticky pedals. we sent a large recall query
asking toyota for all their information and to answer questions about all the sudden acceleration events, which will be a large amount of data for us to review. if we find in the review of those documents that there is a violation will move forward accordingly. >> have you found the lack of subpoena power a hindrance to the agency doing its job effectively? >> in my review of the work on toyota, while toyota has been slow in years past i will say they have not been as responsive as my staff feel they should have been in response. since i have been in office, they have been very responsive. i hope that will continue in the future. in terms of our subpoena power, our ability to get information requests responded to, i have no evidence that has been a problem. >> you were asked a question -- you have mandatory recall power. you answered yes. do you remember that?
can you explain to us why your agency has not initiated a recall since 1979? >> you can often influence a recall by going through the initial stages of the process. most times, and automaker will not want to go through the fall formal process. it takes approximately a year. it is a public process. a lot of automakers, realizing they are facing public scrutiny of fighting a vehicle safety defect when they know the agency can prove it, they will go forward and effect a voluntary recall. most recalls are voluntary. there is a huge number that are influenced by this agency. that is the actual number one should look at. we influence well over half of the recalls that are happening every year. that is the real number. i think that is indicative of
our power. we do not have to get to the point where the administrator, after a year of public hearings, has to sign an order. automakers will go forward and take care of that voluntarily. >> tommy as skeptical that in a 31-year. there has not been and instance where auto makers acted responsibly in every particular case, responding to a demand of a recall -- in a 31-year. period. >> i want to talk about how you describe the agency's mission in response to changes in the automotive industry. do you remember that in your opening remarks? i don't know if i would call it a change in mission. it is a change in how we have to approach the job. there was a time when america was the world leader in manufacturing. we are no longer that leader.
>> i am talking about something different. i grew up in the muscle car era, when you could tear apart an engine in your basement and put it back together, having a basic knowledge of the internal combustion engine. you cannot do any more -- you cannot do that anymore. one of the things that came out was this concept of black box technology that has crashed data in its that is driven by a complex computer code, some of which the manufacturer is willing to share. some manufacturers have been reluctant to share that data or to provide an ability for your employees to have the keys to the kingdom so that they can download and interpret that information independently. >> i agree. one of the things i am concerned about is our internal committee report for this hearing. it suggests that your agency budget dedicated to vehicle
safety has remained stagnant, relatively, over the past 10 years. your resources are far below the resources that were available for this type of investigation when the agency was at its height. my concern is, based upon some of the testimony at the previous hearing -- when you have a demand for computer engineers and electrical engineers and people who are not based in mechanical backgrounds, i am concerned that the level of funding in the staffing of personnel within your agency may not be adequate to meet the incredible demands of the changing technology of the automobile industry. have you done an independent review to make your own independent judgment on whether or not that is a critical case we need to address? >> i have a couple of responses to that. the work of odi and the auto engineers that do the work -- they are some of the finest in
the business in this country. as the technology evolves, the experience of our investigators and engineers also involves. i can give you the number of folks we have on deck. we have 125 engineers. we have five electrical engineers. we have a software engineer. we have engineers in our ohio facility. we of resources for consultants when we need additional expertise. from my understanding since i have taken office, there is not a notion that we do not have the proper expertise to handle today's automobiles. i do not think that is the case. however, recognizing that you can always buttress what you have, the president has provided resources to hire 66 new people, which we will use to leverage our resources and to buttress and strengthen those folks. in addition, we will look at ways we can do longitudinal and
long-range studies on these complex systems, as the secretary spoke about in the prior hearings. it is my confidence that we can handle the current marketplace with our expertise. can we be stronger? of course we can. >> we are talking about federal oversight of car safety. we want to hear from you in a minute. first, let me introduce to of our guests, and dr. jeffrey runge, the former administrator of nhtsa up. he served from 2001 to 2005. from atlanta, dr. ricardo martinez, former head of nhtsa from 1994 to 1999. thank you for being with us. >> thank you. >> dr. jeffrey runge, could i get your reaction to the fine that nhtsa is seeking against toyota -- $16.40 million? >> if the evidence points to the fact that toyota was withholding information from regulators and
the public it is appropriate. that fine level is relatively new. it is a new authority from the tread act that was passed in response to the ford at firestone issue -- the ford firestone issue. before that, the fine was down in the hundreds of thousands. we were the first ones to cross that million dollar barrel. ford was slow to report a windshield wiper defect that was a safety threat. going to $16 million, to the full extent of the law, sends a message to the industry that they are serious. >> i read one critics saying that "toyota embarrassed the agency and that is where this is coming from." what do you think? >> the agency's mission oriented. it does not have all of the
tools it might need. it is usually outgunned by the global industry. this was critic for a national industry. we transitioned to a global industry. it is trying to maintain the rules. what you do is you find people who have gone over the rules and you hold them accountable. $16 million is not a lot for a company making $200 million. but it is the largest amount allowed by law, a strong message. >> are you saying that nhtsa cannot live up to its responsibilities? that it is not adequately funded and does not have enough resources in today's global economy? >> i think the fact that they are asking for 66 new positions is a reflection of the fact that authority has grown dramatically. we have also seen this with the fda and other agencies. we have gone from a national market to a global market. you need the additional resources. the car has gone from a
mechanical vehicle to an electronic vehicle. that requires, as you can see in this case, more expertise in software, electrical systems, and that sort of thing. you need to make sure there is communications expertise because of connectivity issues coming down the road. in some ways, the agency is playing catch-up. the testimony -- it really has some of the world's experts. what is different about the agency versus any other agency in the world in auto safety is that the researchers and policy makers are together. the question is whether they have the resources they need in today's world. >> why me ask you about responsibility. before we went on air, you said that some people have said the nhtsa did not live up to its responsibilities when it comes to the case of toyota. what do you say? >> i take a little offense, even though i am not there anymore. i know these people. i know how they work. as ricardo martinez said, the
work with the resources given to them by congress and the administration. their job in the vehicle safety area is to promulgate rules under the federal motor vehicle safety act and to look for defective vehicles -- systemically defective vehicles. the definition is an unreasonable risk of harm. the law does not say that this has to be a risk-free environment. it says that nhtsa's job is to go out and find a defect which is an unreasonable risk of harm. that is not always easy to do. in this case, they have transition from a mechanical into an electronic vehicle. the agency was under resource to for that skill set. >> we're talking about federal oversight of auto safety with two former heads of the agency that heads up auto safety. we want to hear from you
tonight. we have divided the lines along territories -- a long time zones. the numbers are at the bottom of your screen. you can send us twitter messages. go to twitter.com -- #cspan. what is the message that net set -- that nhtsa is trying to send? >> for people to understand about the mission -- in many ways, it is a public health agency. the leading cause of death under age 34 in this country is an auto crash. it is the leading cause of death on the job, spine injuries, head injuries, 94% of the injuries. you get a chance to see the scope of this problem verses the
resources you have. one reason the other departments are bigger is they are running organizations like the faa and railroads. it is something we need to look at in terms of -- the safety organizations are an investment. when it comes to giving money and resources, we look at them as regulatory agencies. that is not always the case. speed limits, child seat laws -- these respect all the people out there. even though it is a small amount of money, having the largest fine ever levied can send a message not just to toyota but around the world about how we are going to enforce our system. the american system versus the european system -- we rely on you to tell us the truth. in other countries to do tight specifications. you bring me a vehicle. we crash it and approve that type of vehicle. you may treat it a little bit. here, you self certify.
i have the right as the administrator to take any car off your line at any time. if it does not meet standards, i can shut down your factory. in a capitalist marketplace that is a powerful tool. the recall apparatus is powerful to. they're saying they believe toyota did not tell the truth. you have to have that integrity for the system to work. >> a phone call from new york -- barbara. you are up. >> that you for taking my call. i have two questions. it seems there were sudden acceleration charges made against bmw a few years ago. i do not remember them being treated the same way toyota is being treated. my second question is -- as i understand it, it has not unproven that there is anything wrong with the cars yet. with nasa and the national academy of sciences -- if they do not find anything, will there be an apology made?
will the fine be refunded? thank you for taking my call. >> that is a great and complex question. i will try to dissected into its parts. i will take the last one first. it is not just a toyota issue, with respect to the complaints about sudden unintended acceleration. it goes back to the '80s. everybody remembers the old audis and the mechanisms of acceleration were different then. they got outside experts sort of like that are doing now. the developed something called the silver book. it is a comprehensive look of what was going on in those situations. there were never able to find a defect with the vehicle. they did find that many of these were caused by driver error. i think there was a sort of systematic feeling at nhtsa that most of these things were driver
error until proven otherwise. with respect to the question about toyota and bmw -- up until recently, another manufacturer was in the lead in complaints about sudden unintended acceleration. the agency has been looking at all manufacturers relative to these complaints. the problem that they have with toyota -- one of the problems -- is that this problem has existed for a long time. other countries have had recalls of disinformation. information was not shared by toyota to the agency. i think they regard that with some umbrage. with respect to whether or not there is a problem -- that is a difficult one to parse out. that is why nasa has been called in -- why they will continue to look at other experts in the electronics field and try to figure out what is going on. i am relatively certain it will result in some design changes
and some software issues and hardware issues, but we do not know what those are yet. >> what do you mean by design changes? >> this has been a traumatic thing for this car maker. the other car makers are looking closely at what is going on. the mere fact that this is causing such a tumultuous reaction around the world will cause them to improve the systems in whatever way they can. i have no knowledge about how they are going to do that. it may be proprietary. i'm sure there will be improvement as a result. >> first off, they are not going to apologize to toyota. the fine is for not giving us the information. the system relies on a certain amount of trust and integrity. that is nothing to do with intended acceleration. the second thing is that we have really seen this car become an electrical vehicle. i think you're going to see more people begin to look at how the
systems integrator. you will have more focus. will probably see improvements made because of that. we can win if everyone focuses on doing the right thing. we brought in nasa back when the air bag issue occurred. remember? the air bags were too powerful in how the exploded. it was not well controlled. in those days, the propellant for airbags was rocket fuel. you literally had to be a rocket scientist to help us figure it out. in those days, the nasa administrator was dan golden, who worked on air bags in a former life. it worked out well. we learned a lot. the agency is doing the right thing to bring all hands on deck to understand the solution. the caller is correct. no one is sure what it is. we may learn something from this. >> it is not unprecedented that nasa and other agencies would be called in? >> we have done it in the past.
it is a good idea for nhtsa to say there are skills and expertise that may go beyond what we have currently experienced. we think it is important enough for our mission to go to the table and help. >> thank you for taking my call. i have a 2005 honda element that lost its steering. i have found there is a breakdown between honda manufacturing and customers. on the manufacturing does not have any record of the things i have taken back in. i have questions. is there a breakdown in communications between at the manufacturing company? how do i get anyone to listen to me. i need some help with this car. >> i am not familiar with the latest. one thing you can do is file a complaint on nhtsa, on line.
you can also call their 800 number. that is where a lot of the complaints come from. about 30% of the investigations come from the investigators going through and looking for trends. i would ask you to go on the web -- www. nhtsa.gov. i find the agency is interested in what is coming from the field. >> i would echo that. part of the problem, as an individual, when you are making a complaint, is that you are one of thousands of people making complaints. they may be different complaints. the agency takes the seriously. i think it is higher than 30%. i think most investigations are opened as a result of complaints that are issued. >> i thought it was. >> the caller should absolutely go to the website or call the
800 number and log the complaint. part of the problem is that many of the complaints that come in our vehicles that did not perform. they are lemons. there is no systematic defect. it is not an unreasonable risk. the cannot do anything about that. it is not the agency's job to intervene between a customer and a manufacturer or a service center. >> what happens when you make a complaint? what do they do with that information? >> having filed a complaint myself, i did not get a response. having been on the other side -- >> when did you file a complaint? >> i had a problem. i had a sudden unintended acceleration problem -- >> recently? >> yes. with a non-toyota vehicle, a german manufacturer. i am not sure it was not my fault. i grabbed the floor mat and put the car on neutral. i took it true -- i took the
cruise control lever out of position. i turn the car off. it has not happened again. i told the agency about it so they could lock it in and have the data. if they do not have the data, they will never find the trend. >> what happens then? you make a complaint. what happens from the agency side? where does it go? >> there are a couple of ways it is dealt with. there is a group of investigators that bring these complaints in. there was a database set up in 2003. it is an early warning database. it gets all the field reports, warranty claims, customer complaints, log into a large database. there are statisticians that look for trends. if it is a random complained that does not fit a trend you may not get a call. if they are seeing a trend -- maybe 10 complaints or maybe 30 -- they will start to call
people and find out if there are similarities. they may ask for their vehicles. they may ask for their history. they do look into those things. >> a senator who has been a critic of toyota and nhtsa put out a statement saying that this should be a warning that nhtsa spends more time -- more time given to consumer complaints verses industry defense of those complaints. is that what happens? >> i never had anybody who felt they were trying to side with industry. they are mission oriented. it is good to go to work and think "i have saved some lives." you have organized groups of people who have cases. they will go and do press conferences. all of a sudden you get a surge of complaints from that local area. they go to the database and say there is a surge in complaints. the g